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Insurers brace for high catastrophe losses resulting from severe winter weather

Insurers brace for high catastrophe losses resulting from severe winter weather

Insurers that enjoyed a relatively benign catastrophe loss year in 2013 are coming in for a shock thus far in 2014.

In fact, near-record snowfall and prolonged extreme cold throughout many parts of the United States resulted in insured losses of more than $1.5 billion by late February, according to the insurance industry-supported Insurance Information Institute, which cited data gathered by the Jersey City, N.J.-based Property Claim Services division of Verisk Analytics Inc.

“Severe winter weather, including snow, sleet, freezing rain, extreme cold and ice damage, accounted for 7.1% percent of all insured catastrophe losses between 1993 and 2012, placing it third” behind hurricanes and tropical storms at 40% and tornadoes 36% as the costliest natural disasters, Institute President Robert Hartwig said in a statement.

“While most winter storm losses occur in northern and mountainous regions of the United States, this spate of severe cold has also affected millions of home and businessowners in the South, many of whom were unprepared for such extreme conditions,” he said.

That could chill insurers' first-quarter 2014 results, analysts said.

“It sounds like what we've been seeing is worse than typical weather,” said Meyer Shields, managing director and an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. in Baltimore.

“Large losses that wouldn't qualify as catastrophes have been occurring,” he said. “Even if we just revert to the normal weather noncat-loss trend, that's still deterioration on a year-to-year basis for first quarters.”

“It's been a tough winter, and I think that's going to make the first quarter for (property/casualty) insurers tough,” said Gloria Vogel, a senior vice president at Drexel Hamilton L.L.C. in New York. “It's something that the companies have kind of acknowledged.”

But Mr. Hartwig noted that despite the severity of the winter through late February, the losses “were well within the magnitude planned for by insurers” and that “the insurance industry entered 2014 in rock solid financial condition, with record claims-paying capital.”

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